It’s probably a good thing that such blatantly sexist films – see above – like this are not made anymore. Except, of course, the Carry On . . . films (1958-92) were not quite as straightforwardly reactionary as the poster suggests. For a start, the men are all pathetic, self-absorbed idiots; the competent gender is female. This is expressed in Cabby through Hattie Jacque’s character who, in umbrage at her husband’s (Sid James) attitude toward her, starts her own cab (taxi) business, in secret, and easily beats him at his own game. In comedies it’s relatively easy to dramatise such subversive representations as we’re obviously not meant to be taking it seriously however in order for the humour to work it has to draw upon generally recognised tropes; in other words, maybe men deep down knew their hubris was ridiculous. Talbot Rothwell’s script gives James lines that demonstrate his own stupidity in one sentence: he bemoans not knowing what his wife’s up to but refuses to ask her if she isn’t going to tell him without him having to ask.
The film’s poster isn’t a million miles away from the style of Bamforth’s smutty/bawdy postcards that drew on the music hall tradition of double entendres and terrible puns. I’m not sure the Carry On . . . series’ style of humour has any purchase for today’s youngsters, or even those slightly older; how much is my enjoyment for them nostalgia or a funny bone trained by the films during my formative years? In writing about them John Hill suggested:
the earlier films . . . focus on . . . institutions which bear most heavily on working-class experiences . . . the ‘them’ and ‘us’ attitude characteristic of certain forms of working-class consciousness refers primarily to the experience of authority relations, especially petty officialdom. (Sex, Class and Realism: British Cinema 1956-1963, 142-3)
The series ran for over 30 films showing how popular it was with the mass audience, even whilst the latter was declining for cinema during the 1960s. It was a healthy antidote to the middle-class niceties of Anna Neagle (directed by Herbert Wilcox) but without the gritty realism of the new wave, which invariably featured working-class characters. In Cabby the conflict is not with officialdom and the gender wars, of course, are resolved in favour of men who get to act the heroes in a typical Carry On . . . ending which dramatises collective action. However, it is noticeable that the collectivism of trade unions is shown not to be desirable.
The key to the series’ success was the actors; in addition to the aforementioned, other regulars grace the film: Kenneth Connor, Jim Dale, Liz Fraser and Charles Hawtrey. The men’s attitude toward sex is puerile and apparently typically British, who seem to feel they could never compete with French eroticism, and I wonder to what extent the passionless, middle class, stiff upper lip attitude (evident in Neagle’s films for example) informed these representations. The censorship of anything sexually daring only started to loosen during the ’60s and it wasn’t until the mid-’80s that the industry (self-)regulator changed its name from British Board of Film Censors to British Board of Film Classification. In 1969 Carry on Camping brought female, topless nudity into the mainstream by starting the film with characters watching Nudist Paradise (UK, 1960); one of a number of ‘nudies’ that circumvented censorship by documenting, as opposed to dramatising, life on a nudist camp. If memory serves, Carry On Up the Khyber (1968) is the best of the films.